In October 2012, Haytham Manna of the Syrian National Coordination Body for Democratic Change gave a talk at the London School of Economics. Therein, he argued for the importance of continuing nonviolent resistance in Syria, warning against the dangerous logic of both armed resistance and foreign intervention. For this, many in the audience roundly and vocally attacked him, accusing him of being irrelevant to the Syrian struggle, of being a capitulationist, or even a collaborator. The vehemence of some of the reactions echoed those that had greeted the advocate of nonviolence and negotiation, Louay Hussein of the movement Building the Syrian State, earlier in the year., Combined, these reactions indicated that something had shifted in understandings of resistance in the Middle East. By contrast with the high hopes generated by the examples of the Tunisian and Egyptian uprisings in 2011, it seemed that open, violent, and uncompromising resistance was now considered the only way of dealing with the regime that still clung to power in Damascus.
In the circumstance of extreme violence inflicted by the regime’s forces on communities the length and breadth of Syria, this was perhaps not surprising, either strategically or ethically. However, it does draw attention to a particular feature of the politics of resistance that has been troubling in other contexts as well. This is the emergence of dominant narratives within resistance movements, and the diminishing space allowed to those who might think of resistance differently and seek to act accordingly. It also underlines the ways in which that dominant narrative itself becomes hegemonic, appropriating not simply the means of resistance but colonizing its imagination as well. For some, such as the advocates of nonviolence in Syria, it may seem as if they have been doubly marginalized, even oppressed: once by the ruling regime that provoked their resistance in the first place; and then again by forces of resistance determined to pursue the armed struggle as a token not simply of their courage, but of their dedication to the resistance project itself.
Yet belief in nonviolence may not simply be one option amongst many. It is grounded in concerns that go beyond the downfall of the regime itself, and lie at the heart of understandings of a truly counter-hegemonic project. Its adherents believe that this alone will prevent similar forms of oppressive power from re-establishing themselves in the wake of any future victory of the resistance movement. Recent reports (for example, see here and here) of the ideas and activities of the armed groups that have seized much of Aleppo would appear to justify the fear that the mentalities of the old order can live on even among those who oppose it most violently. However, it is also clear that in some areas of Syria at least the tansiqiyyat (coordination and distribution committees) that have emerged have managed to preserve the civility, openness, and answerability that are seen by many as the true counter to Asad’s regime of power. Whether they can preserve these forms will depend on forces over which they themselves have little control. However, even their temporary experience will have established a repertoire of actions that may yet be called upon in the future.
The same might be said of other instances where people have resisted from within the dominant narrative of resistance. The failure of a resistance movement to dislodge the established structures of power, let alone to cause their dramatic collapse, may be an unreliable indication of how far resistance may have succeeded in eroding hegemonic power. So it is with resistance within resistance. The dominant strand may achieve its objective, but it may be less successful at neutralizing those whom it has marginalized on the path to power. This has certainly been the experience of women in nationalist resistance movements. Here the gendering of the roles assigned to women has often been indistinguishable from the views of the established order against which the nationalist movement is fighting. Indeed, given the peculiar and distinctive imaginative constructions of nationalism, women’s agency has often been substantially reduced. This has been no less true in the Middle East than elsewhere. In Egypt, for instance, as Beth Baron has so well described, women were prominent both symbolically, as well as intellectually and physically in nationalist resistance against British rule, but found themselves restricted by the prejudices and power of their fellow – male – nationalists in the roles they were allowed to play. A similar fate befell many of the Algerian women who had played such crucial roles in the war of liberation against the French but who were then doubly excluded, as women and as civilians by the FLN/army rule that followed.
In Palestine, women’s relations with the main resistance organizations have been equally problematic, even in those, such as the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), where gender equality was professed. When the allegedly male pursuit of armed resistance gave way to civil disobedience and resistance in the first intifada, women played a vital role in the organization and coordination that allowed Palestinian society to function autonomously even under the pressure of military occupation. Although the shabab of the first intifada drew much of the media’s attention and claimed much of the kudos, eventually becoming a kind of morality police that threatened women in particular, the resources and the repertoire of the women of the uprising persisted. They were able to deploy these to good effect in the aftermath of the Oslo Accords, fighting to prevent the Palestine National Authority from relegating women to being, in Hanan Ashrawi’s memorable phrase, “hatcheries” of the Palestinian nation.
Other settings and other struggles have produced similar patterns, with contestation revolving around such questions as the organization of economic life, freedom of expression, artistic license, and the narration of history. For some, the fight against established power is just the first part of the story of resistance. The sequel lies in their determination to resist the establishment of a new hegemony that demands conformity and obedience where once it had encouraged imaginative resistance. It is a struggle being witnessed in the aftermath of the 2011 uprisings, as artists of the resistance in Tunisia and Egypt, for instance, seek to realize the freedoms that they fought so hard to achieve.
Michel Foucault observed that “[w]herever there is power, there is resistance and yet, or by the same token, the latter is never external to power...These points of resistance are present everywhere in the network of power.” It should be remembered therefore that this applies equally to the networks that lend power to resistance movements themselves. In this sense, therefore, the trajectory of any emerging political order and of the politics of contestation that it fosters may well be shaped by a politics of resistance within the resistance.
 Beth Baron, Egypt as a Woman – nationalism, gender, and politics (Berkeley, University of California Press, 2007).
 Mary King, A Quiet Revolution: the first Palestinian intifada and nonviolent resistance (New York, Nation Books, 2007) pp. 87-100.
 Rabab Abdulhadi, “The Palestinian women’s autonomous movement: emergence, dynamics and challenges,” Gender and Society 12/6 (December 1998): p. 664.
 Michel Foucault, Histoire de la sexualité Vol I La volonté de savoir (Paris, Gallimard, 1976): pp. 125-126.